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Trudeau Weighs Order Ending Postal Strike Amid Black Friday Rush

Bloomberg with Andrea Stairs 20 November 2018

Canada’s government is willing to order an end to rotating postal strikes as retailers complain the dispute threatens the holiday shopping binge that begins after Thanksgiving in the U.S.

“We strongly encourage both sides to reach a deal and are prepared to table legislation if we do not see a resolution over the next few days, a step we do not take lightly,” Labor Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement late Tuesday. She and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were more measured earlier in the day, saying the government was weighing its options.

On Monday, unionized workers rejected Canada Post’s “last ditch” offer calling for a temporary return to work through the holiday season. The Retail Council of Canada, meanwhile, sent an open letter to Trudeau on the weekend saying his government must end the strike, given the pace of parcel traffic is about to double in an already strained postal system.

While Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, many domestic stores now offer Black Friday sales that are common south of the border. Electronics and appliance sales surged nearly 13 percent last November from a year earlier because of the promotions, according to Statistics Canada’s initial estimates. Questions about shipping delays this year could weaken confidence in online purchases and hurt merchants that rely on e-commerce.

“This ship can be righted, but it’s getting down to a matter of a few days,” Karl Littler, a vice president at the retail council, said by phone Monday. “A clogged system isn’t going to be able to deal with that ramp-up.”

Deepening Backlog

Canada Post didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday on the labor minister’s move, while the Canadian Union of Postal Workers said they’ll work with a mediator amid the “threat” of a back-to-work order.

Rotating strikes over the past month have already left hundreds of truck trailers full of unprocessed mail at Canada Post depots in Toronto and Vancouver. The government-owned corporation delivered a record 62 million parcels over the 2017 holiday season, including a single-day record 1.8 million shipments on Dec. 4, according to its annual report.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is also sounding the alarm. “Most members don’t really care how Canada Post goes back to work, they just want them to go back to work,” Vice President Monique Moreau said Monday. Costs so far have run into the thousands of dollars for typical small businesses, including late payments and owners making deliveries themselves, she said.

Some merchants are already finding alternatives. Etsy Inc.’s Canadian website posted a message saying orders won’t be delayed and will be sent by United Parcel Service if necessary. Inc.’s Canadian page says it uses the postal service and other couriers such as UPS or DHL Worldwide Express. The e-commerce giant is “working hard to minimize any service disruption for our customers,” spokesman Kaan Yalkin said in an email Tuesday.

Etsy sent Trudeau a letter Monday asking for legislation to end the labor dispute. “As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach, it is essential for Etsy sellers in Canada to have their shops open and ready for business, and that they be able to deliver on customer expectations of fast and reliable shipping,” Erin Green, regional director for North America, wrote.

Gift Season

Domestic sales on EBay Canada will probably hold up through this weekend because customers are expecting slower delivery, but could suffer toward Christmas when more people ship gifts to friends and family, according to General Manager Andrea Stairs. “There are real Canadian businesses that are caught in the crossfire,” she said by phone Tuesday. “At this point, back to work legislation is exactly what is called for.”

Canada Post offered a 2 percent pay raise and a four-year contract last week. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers made a counteroffer seeking a 2.9 percent annual wage increase including protection against inflation. The postal service told commercial customers late Monday it can no longer honor its usual delivery standards.

Trudeau told reporters Tuesday he was monitoring the situation closely. “Important shopping days are coming and we need to see a resolution,” he said. “All options are on the table.”